Irish Chamber Orchestra with Robin Tritschler (tenor) at Monkstown Parish Church, Dublin, on 12 December 2019

The Irish Chamber Orchestra’s final concert tour of the year brings it to suburban Dublin tonight, attracting a sizeable audience despite the wet and windy weather. Inside, the ICO brings along something of the wildness of its Shannonside home, as the players begin the concert in anything but a conventional formation. The lower strings loosely gather at the far end of the church, while the violinists are scattered, some amongst the audience, others in the choir.

The famous Adagio by Albinoni (or mostly by him—it’s a long story) is a work that for some suffers from over-familiarity, but even the most jaded listener would have been charmed or, at least, surprised by the orchestra’s physical approach to this work. Paying homage, perhaps, to its Venetian origins, the Adagio is played literally across the space, with musicians processing and playing in response to each other, in a dynamic mix of music and movement devised by violinist Diane Daly. The interplay between instruments opens up the work, as well as the sense of this ensemble, as the group gradually comes together on stage, to both applause and laughter. What will they do next?

The programme takes a sidelong glance at the season, and the times, by turning to a secular work on the theme of new life, Dies Natalis by Gerald Finzi, with tenor Robin Tritschler. Setting the mystical poetry of Thomas Traherne, this beautiful work is not often heard, and is performed beautifully here. Tritschler is in a class of his own and always worth listening to, singing with a clarity and immediacy that demands attention. He brings a wonderful freshness to this music, taking the audience through the moods of Finzi’s work from rapturous intensity to gentle contemplation, well-balanced with the ensemble’s expressive playing. Carrying on with English romanticism, in a transition so smooth it could almost have been a segue, the orchestra follows this with a bracing performance of Elgar’s Serenade for Strings. This is a work that calls for bold string playing, and it receives it here, with the slow movement beautifully moving.

One might have expected a similar-sized work after this but, in a curious change of pace, Tritschler returns with the tenor aria ‘The Lord preserveth all them that love Him’ (taken from the anthem I will Magnify Thee). It’s beautifully sung, with expressive passagework, but seems to end all too quickly. Another tanatalising Handelian moment follows with a slick performance by the orchestra of the Allegro from the D Major Concerto Grosso Op.6 no. 5. Following these two vivid gestures the music takes a Christmassy turn: Tritschler sings over Kenneth Edge’s busy arrangement of ‘The Wexford Carol’, and closes with ‘O Holy Night’, the string accompaniment giving the old warhorse a rare luminosity. But that’s not all, as the playful spirit of the opening returns in an instrumental version of ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’, played (and even sung) with gusto. It ends a fun and stimulating night with an ensemble unafraid to express its personality, earning enthusiastic applause.

Tommaso Albinoni: Adagio in G minor (reconstructed by Remo Giazotto)
Gerald Finzi: Dies Natalis
Edward Elgar: Serenade for Strings, Op. 20
George Frideric Handel: ‘The Lord preserveth all them that love him’ (From Chandos Anthem, No. 5, HWV250c); Allegro, from Concerto Grosso in D, Op. 6/5, HWV323
Traditional, arr. Kenneth Rice: ‘The Wexford Carol’
Adolphe Adam: O Holy Night
Robin Tritschler (tenor), Irish Chamber Orchestra